FutureGov’s Harriet McDougall used her 300 Seconds at the Women in Tech meetup to talk about how she applied user-centred design to create Popcash, an app that might soon be challenging traditional financial services.


When it came to developing Popcash – a safe and secure mobile product that enables people to access low interest loans from responsible lenders such as credit unions, rather than high-interest ‘payday lenders’ – Harriet McDougall and her team discovered that sometimes it’s better to tear up the brief and rebuild a concept from scratch.

When challenged to find a solution to the problem of people using big name lenders such as Wonga, which provides loans with APR as high as 350% (or over 4,000% Representative APR), Harriet and her team began by looking at the current technology.

They discovered that users weren’t put off by the high interest rates offered by popular lenders because the borrowing process was quick, there were no questions asked, and the UX design of the websites made it easy to get money in under five minutes. By contrast, credit unions did not have the technical expertise to compete with the big players, and struggled to attract users.

But while improving technology and interfaces could be seen as the solution, Harriet and her team took a step backwards to get a fresh perspective on the challenge, and identified the problem as cultural rather than technological.

As banks are notorious for selling credit to people who can’t afford it from the age of 16 onwards, it’s created an attitude in modern society that debt is normal. Moreover, lenders offer little advice on how to manage debt, play on financial illiteracy, charge exorbitant penalties for money mismanagement, and exploit the fact that most people try their best to ignore money problems as spiralling debt is regarded as a social stigma.

Rather than creating a superficial, more engaging product than those currently used by responsible lenders, Popcash instead delivers a money management tool that collects all a user’s finances in one place, and allows them to stay in touch with their lending provider. And rather than giving misleading information, Popcash only shows a user’s bank balance after all payments have been made, and never lets users think they’ve got more money than they really have.

And while Harriet was clearly proud of the product they created, her message to the 300 Seconds audience was clear – in order to create wise solutions, sometimes the best course of action is to tear everything up and start again.

Follow Harriet on Twitter.